Smile and say cheese
From the family that brought the wonderful Vanella Cheese Factory to Cairns from Italy, we have Il Convivio.
Translating to “the banquet”, it is easy to understand the title as you step inside this cafe/bakery/delicatessen opposite Cairns Central.
Whether you’re stocking up for Christmas, or in need of a lunch or coffee break, Il Convivio’s owners continue the same passion for food they’ve shown since introducing their award-winning handmade cheeses to the region in 2004.
At the head of this family-run business is Vito Minoia, Italian cheesemaker extraordinaire, who learned his trade in the “old country” from the tender age of 16, stretching and moulding luscious soft cheeses by hand.
Having made his mark in Europe, Vito visited Australia as a celebrated producer of fine cheeses and made the momentous decision to move his family here, settling in Cairns and starting his business all over again.
Today, Vanella buffalo and cow mozzarellas, burrata (a creamy, buttery soft cheese), ricotta and fetta, are sought after by restaurants across Australia.
Take a browse through the fridges at Il Convivio and you’ll see everything from the famous Vanella cheeses to take-home frozen meals, including such classics as lasagne and cannelloni.
There is also every ingredient for a great DIY Italian feast, from handmade gnocchi and Italian sausages to dried pulses, pasta sauces, fancy vinegars, jams, spices or a Christmas panettone.
But the best way to enjoy Il Convivio is to pull up a chair and spend some time.
You could easily while away an afternoon with friends, but if it’s a quick snack you’re after, consider a syrupy coffee and flaky pastry, an antipasto platter to share, or fresh panini stuffed with spicy salami, creamy ricotta and grilled capsicum.
For meals, the options are almost unlimited, with a long list of pizza and pasta choices and main dishes, such as veal scaloppine served with mushroom sauce and salad ($21), or house pork sausages with potatoes, olive oil, tomatoes and herbs ($20).
Today, my lunch date and I decide to share our order of quattro stagioni pizza ($16) and rigatoni pasta with Il Convivio’s secret beef ragu sauce ($18).
The pizza, named after Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, comprises the perfect pizza base, superbly light and crisp, topped with quality ingredients, such as San Marzano tomatoes, ham, mushrooms, artichokes, anchovies, capers, mozzarella and olive oil.
It may well be the best pizza in town.
The pasta dish is spot-on with faultless al dente pasta, lightly dressed in the rich stew with tender chunks of beef.
We’ve enough food for two, as the pizza is large, though if ordering the pasta on its own I’d consider adding a salad, possibly the rucola, Reggiano e funghi ($10), a mix of rocket, parmesan and mushrooms dressed in olive oil and balsamic glaze.
If you take a table out on the footpath, be sure to pop inside and check out the shelves of goodies, the fridges and deli counter for marinated octopus, olives and cured meats.
You’ll not leave empty handed.
This family cares deeply and wants you to fully enjoy the food they offer.
From the prompt service to the head that discretely pops out of the kitchen from time to time, to ensure diners are contented, the evidence is all around.Il Convivio, 58-62 McLeod St, Cairns.
Ph: 4051 7477.
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Chef Donato Innco